244. Notes of Meeting1



  • The President
  • Secretary Rusk
  • Secretary Clifford
  • Director Helms
  • General Wheeler
  • Walt Rostow
  • George Christian
  • Tom Johnson

Secretary Rusk: Nixon asked to see Harriman. He will see him Thursday morning.2

The President: Communications, Transportation, Medics and the Secret Service have never failed me. I like the new Military Aide, Colonel [Donald] Hughes. Doctor Burkley has done a wonderful job. All of them are underpaid.

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Secretary Rusk: I would echo that. The wing at Andrews is excellent. They have flown me 850,000 miles. I would authorize larger forces than a squad to go into the DMZ to protect the forces.

Secretary Clifford: My concern is the tactics of the South Vietnamese Government. Last word is that Ky won’t get there until the 9th.

You stopped bombing 32 days ago. I fear we will have this package fall apart and get back to heavy fighting.

Saigon appears to be stalling until after January 20. We see ahead delay and delay and delay.

We are not getting progress. We have Saigon delaying and stalling. I think we should agree on a date for the talks to start. I would suggest Wednesday, December 11. That is 8 days off.

Secretary Rusk: We are now in talks with Hanoi. We should go ahead tomorrow and push hard on the DMZ.

I regret that Saigon hasn’t turned up, but I regret more what Hanoi has been doing—they were clear on the DMZ and reconnaissance.

Averell feels the President should get credit for withdrawal of U.S. forces in South Vietnam.

I think that is the wrong way to get peace in South Vietnam. We must be careful about a token withdrawal of forces. We agreed to pour it on in South Vietnam after the bombing was halted.

I would not have a token withdrawal. I would work toward clearing out the DMZ.

Secretary Clifford: If an agreement could be reached, it would be good to start a mutual withdrawal of troops.

A withdrawal of 5000 troops by each side would mark a significant change in the conduct of the war.

If this step could be taken it would show the turn had been taken. This would be valuable framework for future talks.3

Secretary Rusk: Provided this is real and not phony.

Two infiltration groups a day are scheduled into South Vietnam. If we are going to bring back troops, it must be that.

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Secretary Clifford: They must have a net reduction in troops.

General Wheeler: A piecemeal approach to military de-escalation is the worst thing you could have.

CIA Director Helms: I agree.

Secretary Rusk: I am for a total mutual reduction.

CIA Director Helms: North Vietnam and the Soviets aren’t playing—they said if we stopped the bombing they would help. They haven’t. I think we should turn the heat on.

The President: 1. Dean, get all the heat on South Vietnam you can to get there.4

2. Go strong on reconnaissance and the DMZ tomorrow morning.

We have stood about all the delay from South Vietnam we can. See if they can be there by December 11.

I think we are justified in resuming the bombing.

We have tested them and they have been proved wanting.

I would like to leave office de-escalating—not escalating—but I do not want to make a phony gesture. I do not want to run. We have listened to dovish advisers. We have tested them. We Don’t want a sellout.

General Wheeler: General Abrams’ authority expires at 11:00 o’clock today to put squad size patrols in the DMZ.

The President: You can extend that now.

General Wheeler: He wants same authority.

The President: I am for that.

Secretary Rusk: Unless we get quick answers from North Vietnam tomorrow, we should go all out in the DMZ.

Walt Rostow: They have taken the northern part of the DMZ as their own.

They won’t talk sense unless we go up to Binh Hoi River. This is much more satisfactory.5

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Secretary Rusk: Today is Tuesday. Tomorrow we should look at this.

Let’s meet at 5:00 tomorrow.6 Do it at 1:30 p.m. Lunch tomorrow.

[Omitted here is discussion of Biafra.]


General Wheeler: Goodpaster told [Bryce] Harlow he preferred to stay in the field, but would do what he was told to do. Nixon wants him 6-7 weeks starting in mid-December.

The President: I would do just what Nixon proposes.

General Wheeler: General Abrams can do it.

Secretary Clifford: I would hope you could put a limitation on it.

Secretary Rusk: Goodpaster’s future is with the next President.

The President: Say we passed on the request. Talked to Goodpaster.

[Omitted here is discussion of arms control matters.]

The President: What is your impression of Kissinger?

Secretary Rusk: Theoretical more than practical.

The President: Does McConnell go out in July?

General Wheeler: Yes, sir.

Secretary Rusk: If Abrams must choose “do less” or “do more” he’ll do less.

Kissinger handled himself in an honest fashion on the Paris talks.

Walt Rostow: [Omitted here are comments on European security.]

Henry is a man of integrity and decency. Henry doesn’t understand emergency [in] Asia.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, Tom Johnson’s Notes of Meetings. No classification marking. The meeting was held in the White House Mansion. Clifford remained with the President until 3 p.m. and Tom Johnson until 3:01 p.m. (Ibid., President’s Daily Diary)
  2. December 5. Harriman apparently met with Nixon and Kissinger on December 2. (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Harriman Papers, Special Files, Public Service, Kennedy-Johnson, Subject File, Kissinger, Henry) No record of a meeting between Harriman and Nixon on December 5 has been found.
  3. In a December 3 memorandum to Clifford, Warnke wrote: “Bill Bundy called with respect to an item that may come up at today’s lunch. Cy Vance has received word that Ha Van Lau wants to meet tomorrow to give his answer on the procedural matters. Cy would like to propose to Ha Van Lau that both sides agree on a date certain on which they will both withdraw from the DMZ. He would point out that we admittedly have some forces in there and we know that they do. He would suggest that this dangerous situation should promptly be rectified. Bill thinks this is a good idea and plans to draft up appropriate authorization. I would recommend that you support this if it is raised at lunch.” (Johnson Library, Clark Clifford Papers, Cabinet—Cabinet Meetings)
  4. That evening, the President approved a letter to Thieu encouraging him to expedite the departure to Paris of the GVN delegation. Johnson rescinded the letter after Thieu announced that the delegation would be in Paris by the end of the week. (Ibid., National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, HARVAN Misc. & Memos, Vol. VII)
  5. In brief notes on this meeting, December 3, Rostow wrote: “Negotiating strategy. Very detailed talk on question Harriman raised of limited de-escalation. President came out very hard and said would love, of course, to get the war over and make real progress. But will not bug out. What was agreed: Sec. of State will draft two cables—one to Cy giving him instructions to go in hard; second to Sam Berger, diplomatically to keep himself under control. Lot of talk about the DMZ. Abrams’ authority will be renewed. On Thursday we will have a meeting to consider the whole DMZ.” (Ibid., Walt Rostow Files, Meetings with the President, July-December 1968 [1])
  6. See Document 248.